CLACKAMAS COUNTY, Ore. (KOIN) — A gun control bill introduced by Oregon Democrats has drawn a huge amount of passionate testimony both in support and opposition.
House Bill 2543, sponsored by representatives Lisa Reynolds and Janeen Sollman, would ban the transfer of a firearm without a successful background check. Currently, federal law states that if a background check is not completed within three days, a firearm dealer can sell someone a gun.
The so-called “Charleston loophole” allowed a man to purchase the gun used in the 2015 massacre at South Carolina’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, according to CBS News. The shooter was prohibited from buying guns but managed to buy one after his background check remained incomplete for more than three days.
Supporters call it a necessary step to curb gun violence, while opponents call it an infringement on Second Amendment rights.
In 2020, a record-breaking year for gun sales, around 11,500 background checks took longer than three days to process, according to Oregon State Police data.
Additional OSP data submitted to the legislature revealed 94% of background checks were approved in 2020 (marginally lower than the 5-year average of 96%). Just half a percent were denied, and about 3% were pended for research.
Many gun sellers won’t sell a firearm without an approved background check, even if the three-day time limit is exceeded. OSP spokesman Timothy Fox told KOIN 6 News in an email that he had never heard of a dealer “releasing” prior to completion of a background check, but that “there is no required reporting to OSP.”
“A lot of dealers aren’t going to do that because of any potential civil liability,” firearm dealer Steve Riehl said. Riehl, who said he has discussed the issue with firearms lawyers, errs on the side of caution, even though some background checks have been taking upwards of three weeks to process since the pandemic began.
Rep. Sollman, said her office collected data that, while not concrete, suggested around 2,200 checks may have slipped through the loophole during the past two and a half years. The data is a “rough amalgamation of statistics from a few different years that applies national data to Oregon-specific numbers,” so it only provides a general idea of the magnitude of the problem, Sollman wrote in an email after KOIN 6 News requested more information about how that figure was reached.
Near hits are one of the most common reason for a delayed background check, according to OSP. A near hit occurs when an applicant’s name, birth date, or social security number is close to someone else’s. OSP staff must take additional steps to verify the identity of the applicant.
Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese spoke in favor of the bill, claiming it would send a strong message that “Oregonians are committed to curing violence” in their communities.
Dan Cushing, with the gun rights advocacy group Oregon Gun Owners spoke against the bill, saying it would shift the burden from the government to the individual and presume bun buyers guilty until proven innocent.
More than 250 people had submitted written testimony for and against the bill as of Thursday morning.
One of the most vehement letters in opposition to the bill comes from within the Democratic Party of Oregon (DPO). The DPO Gun Owners Caucus wrote that the bill opens the door to a “de facto ban on firearms purchases.”
While there is a compelling need for background checks, the caucus argues the Second Amendment protects the right for legitimate firearms purchases to “go through in a speedy” fashion.
“What this bill will do is write into law that the Department of State Police does not need to bring their systems and procedures up to speed,” the letter reads in part. “In fact, our reading is that this bill would allow for the Department of State Police to simply shut down firearms transfers whenever it wants. This is not acceptable.”
Testimony can still be submitted until 1 p.m. Friday.